What is a T-Shaped developer ?
(And why you should be one)
Full Stack, Frontend, Backend, Specialist, Jack-of-all-trades…You have heard them almost everyday. But what it is a T-Shaped Developer?
Here, I’ll explain what it is a T-Shaped developer, but more important: Why you should be one, and how.
What it is a T-Shaped developer
Traditionally, organizations favoured I-shaped developers: A short of specialist that has honed a deep and pretty specific area of expertise.
Those developers, called I-Shaped developers, while experts in their area of knowledge and very productive, had a problem: Anything outside their stack was a no-mans land.
A backend developer doesn’t understand how to do UX/UI properly, a frontend developer could not solve a deploying problem.
Every developer had a pretty strict skill set.
But then organizations noticed this and solved it with the T-Shaped developer model.
Now, besides having a defined area of expertise that goes deep in their field, they have a broad knowledge in other areas of expertise.
In this case, a tester knows everything has to know to perform the job, but also understands UX design, can create unit tests, can perform basic DevOps operations, etc.
But… why employers want T-Shaped developers?
Why to become a T-Shaped developer
There are many benefits into becoming one multi-skilled developer:
- More rounded developer: T-Shaped developers have a speciality, normally Front-end, Back-end, DevOps, or even a technology stack such as the MERN/MEAN/MEVN stack. But they also are comfortable doing other jobs outside their scope.
- Can help everywhere: A T-Shaped developer can contribute to every part of a project. You can have a small team that each member have more responsibility, as they can cover a wide range of skills.
- Understands other developers: As they have a broad skill set, they know the basics of each area and can interact better with other devs: They know how to ask what they want, understand the difficulty of their tasks and know what to expect from them.
- Open-minded: A developer that doesn’t fear to learn anything new is a valuable asset to employers.
- Can cover other developers: What happens if the backend developer takes a week of vacation or is sick? Should the project stop until comes again? A team of T-shaped developers can work where the backend developer should be.
How to become one
You should be convinced right now (I hope!) and looking to become one. Want to know how?
- Learn things outside your area of expertise: This allows you to grow and expand your skill set in different areas while keeping an area of expertise. Learn the basics of other areas. They can be picked easily.
- Take your time: Being T-Shaped is not an easy task that can be achieved in a weekend with an Udemy course. It takes time. Years. Keep an open mind and expand your knowledge. Keep growing.
- Empathy: In order to speed up the learning of each team member, you need to create a safe and collaborative environment where knowledge can flow. Understand that other people are outside their comfort zone and have patience.
Being a T-Shaped is important because you can fit other roles, but also because you can communicate better with your teammates, understand their needs and how they work, and how you can help each other.
To do so, you need to go beyond your own limits, learning things outside of the scope of your expertise. And time, of course.
After that, you’ll become an important part of your organization and more importantly: A well-rounded developer that understands every part of the process of a project.
What about you? What kind of developer are you?